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Standing up for sustainable fruit and veg – Soil Association in parliament

Standing up for sustainable fruit and veg – Soil Association in parliament

We need a fairer, healthier, and more sustainable food system, the Soil Association told a government inquiry into horticulture this week.

Our head of horticulture Ben Raskin visited parliament to give evidence on the challenges facing the UK fruit and veg sector as part of an inquiry being led by the House of Lords Horticultural Sector Committee.

This was set up to consider the challenges, opportunities and risks faced by the horticultural sector, including the impact of climate change on productivity and food supply.

Earlier this year the Soil Association submitted written evidence to the inquiry where we called for an overhaul of the UK food system.

With imports providing more than 80% of our fruit and almost half of our vegetables, we want to see a dramatic increase in fruit and veg produced here in Britain through nature-friendly, agroecological farming practices, including organic.

Our full response is available on parliament’s website – and we were invited to provide our insights and expertise in person this week with a focus on soil health, peat, and chemical use.

Soil Association Head of Horticulture Ben Raskin said:

“Our current food system is broken, and our horticulture sector is in crisis and vulnerable to a wide range of pressures. This was plain to see with the empty supermarket shelves earlier this year, and diet-related poor health is also soaring.

“The need to produce more fruit and veg here in the UK is undeniable – as is the need for us to build soil health and move away from using damaging chemical pesticides and fertilisers and for us to stop using precious peat reserves to grow food.

“But to make these changes growers need support and investment in research into alternatives from government, and we need to rethink supply chains so that they provide markets and a fair deal for growers who produce nature-friendly, healthy food.”

Watch Ben speak outside parliament

Less peat and pesticides for UK fruit and veg

In parliament today, Ben called for government to set official targets to halve pesticide and artificial fertiliser use by 2030, alongside support payments rewarding farmers who switch to more nature-based solutions.

This would help drive a surge in alternative, nature-friendly practices such as those used by agroecological organic farmers who are not permitted to use harmful chemicals.

Ben also called for a “mosaic” approach to farming in the Fens, which are home to precious peatlands that need to be protected and rewetted if we are to meet our climate goals and restore wildlife populations.

But the Fens are crucial for rural communities and domestic food production, supplying a third of British-grown vegetables, and a poorly thought-out change in land management on the Fens could increase reliance on imports.

Government must ensure that moving away from fens does not weaken the resilience of our local food systems and contribute to emissions and habitat loss abroad.

Government must work with farmers

Through this government inquiry the Soil Association has called for the government to work with growers to meet these challenges.

Ben added: “We desperately need a joined-up approach and a UK horticultural strategy. We need a government that understands and supports horticulture.

“Improved advice and increased support for farmer-led research models will be essential to finding alternatives to peat and chemicals. We need increased support and funding for grower led research and development.”

The Soil Association’s Innovative Farmers programme, which has enabled more than 120 farm-based research trials into sustainable solutions, proves these are powerful tools for sparking on-the-ground change.

Watch the committee’s evidence session.